Ambiguity is defined as doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention. It has been an everlasting predicament when dealing with effective leadership, organizational development, and communication practices.
An ambiguous leader isn’t necessarily a bad leader, but he/she certainly isn’t making the job of those he/she leads easy and understandable. In the most basic of terms, if someone doesn’t know exactly what they need to accomplish and how to accomplish it, how are they to succeed in work and life. People need direction. This need is shared by all who strive for success. If you are in the field of coaching or mentoring and your leadership style can be characterized as ambiguous, are those individuals you coach and/or mentor going to learn what you would like them to learn? Most likely no.
- Effective leaders/supervisors know where to start, what direction to head, and how to get to their desired destination.
- Ambiguous leaders/supervisors have no starting point or methods to achieve success, thus, leading to subjective interpretations and distracting their followers from what they need to be learning.
Ambiguity causes confusion, plain and simple. Let’s take a real-world example. We know that Steve Jobs, Chairman and CEO of Apple Inc., has had his share of health issues. What we don’t know and never did know for sure was what exactly his health issues were and how it would affect the company as a whole. Jobs and those that worked with/for/under him kept his health situation in the dark from many. At one point in time, in 2008, Apple officials stated that Jobs was victim to a ‘common bug’. It is clear now that he has been dealing with far worse than a ‘common bug’. Why would they try to keep Jobs’ situation unclear to the public? Why did they not want anyone really knowing how severe his ailments were and what was going to happen to Apple because of them?
As you read this post be careful not to confuse ambiguity with freedom to be creative. We all need direction to a certain extent. If you know the direction you’re headed and how you want to get there, but want to be creative about how you accomplish it, go ahead. Leadership activities and leadership development training thrives when creativity is utilized effectively. Supervisors, in their learning and development, should strive to minimize ambiguity and maximize creativity and efficiency, with clearly stated goals and leadership practices/skills.
Scottish philosopher Adam Smith once said “On the road from the City of Skepticism, I had to pass through the valley of Ambiguity”.
Guest post from Adam, Not Your Ordinary Intern